Interview

Richard Ham takes us to Brink

Splash Damage's FPS in the spotlight

It is very difficult to underestimate the significance of Brink to UK developer Splash Damage, the firm which started off as a bedroom outfit, creating hit mods, before moving onto bigger projects like Quake Wars. This is the game maker's first chance to create a new game from a 'blank canvass' you see, and as such Brink represents the developer's unique vision of the future of the first-person shooter genre. We sat down with ex-Lionhead staffer Richard Ham, now creative director on the project, to find out more.

Splash Damage has expanded rapidly, going from smaller projects to big triple-A undertakings like Brink. Has this ascendance surprised you?

Well, Splash Damage is really a new success story - the kind of thing you used to see all the time in the mid to late 90s. Avid gamers who make levels, like the Counter-Strike team, and then grew from there. They really are one of the last houses to come from this background. All the guys loved playing games, then worked with Quake then moved onto Wolfenstein - creating one of the most played PC games. A huge accomplishment. Quake Wars was probably their first big title. It took several years. It was critically acclaimed but this project is definitely a step above and beyond. The team is at last more than twenty! The company has tripled in size.

This is the first time Splash Damage have worked with an entirely new IP I believe is there a fear factor with this?

Well, the idea behind Brink - the floating city - CEO Paul Wedgewood has been wanting to do this for years. We've been thinking about it for ages. For me, I've only been here for a matter of months - I was lead designer on Fable II previously, and Syphon Filter. I already have some experience with new IP. Syphon Filter was my biggest and first game on PlayStation - that was a new IP. That was in the days when all shooters were set on the moon! It was a gamble so I'm pleased to get back to creating something from scratch. It really is a lot of fun.

Okay, so where did the setting behind Brink come from?

You know, its really a big game. We've done a lot of research. You know, in our time - humanity could make a floating arc, a city, now - this could happen - delivering the green city we need. The sustainable technologies are there. There is only a little science-fiction. We've invented a special material for building, that isn't a green house gas producer however, someone has now created something like this in real life too. We've been to real life locales too, the Arc is a study. The place is really divided, you have some living in seven-star luxury, with all the technology - stunning architecture. We've made a stunning sci-fi city. Then there's the refugees hanging on to the edge, living in poverty, ten to a shipping container. It looks like the slums of Rio. It emulates that. Rich and poor living next to each other. We've tried to capture that in an environment where we can do whatever we want. To use it as a springboard. I'd liken it to the original Star Trek you couldn't do anything on network TV back then but you could take a guy and paint half his face black and half white and have him very confused!

The Arc is this the real star of Brink, beyond the central characters?

I tend to think so. This is a game where we've built our own characters. This is always a tricky thing - creating iconic characters like Max Payne isn't easy, the amount of blood and detail in the world the richness here is like the effort you put into a main character's back story. We know we're a multiplayer game first and foremost, its not what you normally see detail in the levels - story elements - but we want this because of the rich back story.

How do you blend multiplayer in with story and with the world, without devaluing either?

Well, what Splash Damage is trying to this could be seen as an evolution of Enemy Territory you could call it Enemy Territory: The Arc, you know, it is a continuation of that franchise. The gameplay is a big opportunity. We're giving multiplayer gameplay a twist in a way no one ever has before. Players have never seen anything like this. Its singleplayer content - strong, objective based action, a blob of chaos in a wider structure - then we're making that work in a multiplayer context. We're tying everything together. The game works equally well as a traditional singleplayer game if this is how you want to play it. The AI will work instead of co-op players - then you can head online - and you can have people jumping into your game. everything is seamless.

Do you think this blur between single and multiplayer shows the way games are heading in general?

I think it is. I think it should be. This should represent the future of the industry in a retro way. You know, you go back for centuries, playing games has always been a social activity, whether its Chess or the Olympics - its always about interaction with real people. My industry, however, has destroyed this the focus has been on playing alone in dark caves. Its solitary. Our industry is built on solitude. This is not what games like Brink are about. We want to open the player's eyes. Multiplayer doesn't have to be horrible. It doesn't have to be the worst of humanity. We're offering something new, we're trying to deliver a player-friendly multiplayer.

Do you think its important the story isn't lost, though?

Absolutely. If you go back centuries of human evolution, people have always been telling stories. Even when they were painting them onto the wall. It's helped us evolve as a species. No, we need story - its vital. Narrative is vital. If you go to a restaurant, and the first page of the menu has a tale about the place - that makes the experience so much better. It makes what you're about to eat much more interesting. That's story. To say you don't need story in multiplayer I mean, that's crazy.

Would it be fair to say that at its heart the gameplay is a variation on the classic first-person shooter, that the innovation takes place elsewhere?

Well, I think this a much smarter first-person shooter! This is still a meat and potatoes shooter. I wouldn't want to mess with the basics too much. I don't want it to break ground in shooter terms. A lot of new stuff came from Fable II - Peter Molyneux wants his mother to play games, you know - we're not about that. We've done a lot already. Action game fans don't always embrace the progression to online play. It is important not to mix things up too much. We want player to be able to use the controls - Modern Warfare-inspired. We don't want to frustrate players, with anything new. We want people to be able to access the game - its rip-off, stolen, the default controls we're talking Halo, Call of Duty, but we want people to be able to jump in

Is Brink a new IP that will be continued?

Oh, jeez, yes. That's up to the players, but we've lots of ideas, and we do know where we want this story to go. We're only telling a small portion here in this game.

So do you have a cliff-hanger ending?

Not not in an 'oh my god, will the hero live' way. There's not too much teasing there. I loved the re-boot of Tomb Raider, but the ending two years to wait to know what happens, that's too long. Our story does have closure, but there is some stuff left open, too

Very interesting Great. Thank you very much Richard.

Thank you!

Brink will be released on the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 in the autumn of 2010.

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